Tokyo Highlights and Hidden Gem Itinerary
Why Visit Tokyo?
Tokyo’s history dates back to before the 17th century, but due to a large earthquake in 1923 and the bombings of WW2, the Tokyo of today is mostly modern buildings, skyscrapers, and sprawling suburbs. It is not a beautiful city perse, but for those who look a little bit closer, there is a lot to discover and enjoy in this metropolis that has many faces. Are you looking for an itinerary with serene hidden Japanese gardens, mid-20th century characteristic local areas where time seems to have stood still since the 60s, neighborhoods that have been taken over by hip coffee bars, high-end or discount shopping, nightlife, geeky malls, touristy highlights? Tokyo has it all.
Imagine if you would come to Tokyo on your Japan tour for the first time and only have a few days to spend. You want to get a good impression of the city, the most iconic spots and neighborhoods, and get a feel of the local atmosphere as well. Where would you need to go for a combination of all that? Let us give you an example of an itinerary that includes all the best highlights and local neighborhoods of Tokyo. This itinerary could be done in 2 days if you plan well or hire a private guide.
Tour Tokyo’s Highlights
If you only have limited time, these are the 5 highlights we recommend you to see in Tokyo. To help you plan your day, we mentioned for each sight in which part of the city it is located.
- (NORTH-EAST) Asakusa is an area where you can learn more about Buddhism in the famous Sensoji temple, shop for souvenirs, and get a feel of what Tokyo must have looked like 200 years back. The area has been a destination in Tokyo for travelers since the early days, as the Sensoji temple dates back to the 6th century as has played an important role in spreading Buddhism in the area and became the shogunate’s family temple in the Edo period.
- (NORTH-EAST) If you are going to go up a tower while you are in Japan, why not go up the Skytree. It is the highest tower in the world, and seeing the area from 450 meters above the ground is impressive. The attractions around the entrance of the Skytree are also worth a visit, as are the many restaurants located at the base. Another plus is that it is within walking distance from Asakusa. You can buy your tickets in advance online, so you don’t have to wait in a long line when you get there.
- (WEST) While the Sensoji is Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple, the Meiji Shrine is the most visited Shinto shrine. This sanctuary for the late Emperor Meiji and his wife is a beautiful green area in the middle of the city, built on the land where the Emperor and his wife liked to stroll in the flower gardens. Its design is quite simple, only adding to the serenity of the place.
- (WEST) Right next to the Meiji Shrine is the fashionable neighborhood Harajuku. While the main street Takeshita Dori is quite crowded and touristy, the narrow backstreets are very much worth a stroll-through. These winding alleyways are a bit reminiscent of Paris and have many small boutique shops, cafes, and fan stores. After school hours and during the weekend the area is teeming with teenagers looking for cute items. Fashion department store Laforet will give you an idea of what is hot right now with Tokyo’s young people.
- (SOUTH-WEST) Last but not least, you can’t miss experiencing the Shibuya crossing when you are in Tokyo. This iconic square resembles an ant colony when it is time for all the pedestrians to cross at once. You can watch the spectacle from different angles, like from the second floor of the Starbucks right next to the crossing or from the 11th floor of the Hikarie building nearby. The best time to go here is either on a weekend afternoon or in the evening after 6 pm.
Tour Tokyo’s Local Neighborhoods
If you only have limited time, these are some off-the-beaten-path areas we recommend you to see in Tokyo. To help you plan your day, we mentioned for each sight in which part of the city it is located.
- (WEST) For those interested in subcultures, Nakano is a definite must-see. A lot more compact than similar Akihabara, the retro shopping mall near the station packs a whole bunch of subcultures into one building. No matter what makes you tick, you will likely find the paraphernalia to satisfy your hobby.
- (NORTH-WEST) Sometimes called ‘Grandma’s Harajuku’, Sugamo is a thoroughly local area where the average visitor is a 70-year old Japanese lady. Not many tourists find their way here which only adds to the charm, and you can find many local delicacies here. Red underwear is supposed to be lucky, so you will find a few stores here selling scarlet lingerie.
- (NORTH-EAST) If you want to travel back in time, Shibamata is a great destination. The streets around the station still have many old wooden houses where you can buy all kinds of traditional snacks and trinkets. Because of the area’s connection to a very famous anime, there are many Japanese daytrippers in this area as well. The garden with the tea house is also worth a visit for a quiet cup of matcha tea.
- (EAST) For a real ‘shitamachi’ (old downtown) atmosphere, you should head to Monzennakacho. Cute streets with small traditional shops lead to the Buddhist temple where they hold several fire ceremonies almost every day, which are interesting to watch. Please do observe the rules (be quiet, no photography, no hats or sunglasses, take your shoes off) if you want to watch the ceremony.
- (SOUTH-WEST) For a bit of fashionable high society, the Daikanyama/Nakameguro area is a great place for a little walk around. As apartments and houses in this area are very expensive, the little shops and restaurants you find in the quiet, hilly streets cater to a certain audience. This doesn’t mean you can’t get an affordable meal here, as especially lunchtime deals are a steal. Look for the Meguro riverside around the cherry blossom season, this is one of the most gorgeous places to see the blossoms in the city.
Your Japan Tour
As seasoned Japan experts, we can help you create your perfect Japan tour including destinations like Tokyo with itineraries containing highlights as well as places that are more off the beaten path. Contact us to start planning your unforgettable holiday to this fascinating country full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, culture, history, nature, and delicious food!